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Pokerstars All-in Kitchen pop-up

Free meal if you play your cards right

Quirky restaurants with bizarre themes seem to be all the rage at the moment. We’ve had the Cereal Killer Cafe in Brick Lane, which boasts a menu of 120 different cereals, 30 kinds of milk and 20 topping options. And earlier in January, a Belfast cafe rebranded itself as Simply Crispy, taking that lunchbox favourite, the crisp sandwich, to new gastronomic heights.

Now there’s a new contender in town and it’s set to ace the competition.

All-in Kitchen

All-in Kitchen is the world’s first pay-by-poker restaurant where you can literally get dinner on the house. If you were lucky enough to get a seat at the pop-up venue this January, you were definitely quids in. Punters happily threw in their chips in return for some serious gastronomy.

The innovative venture was a collaboration between PokerStars and restaurateurs Jones & Sons to celebrate the launch of the UK and Ireland Tour (UKIPT).

So how did it work?

On arrival, you were handed a suitably themed cocktail and led to the blue baize. Here, you were given 10,000 chips and invited to play three hands of poker.

Poker

But whether you’re a card shark, a hustler or a first-time poker fish, you simply couldn’t lose: finish with more than your original 10,000 chips and your meal was free. If you ended up with between 5,000 and 10,000 chips you only paid a fiver.

And even if you lost the lot, you only paid £10 for a generous three-course gourmet meal.

All-in Kitchen pop up

All-in Kitchen was conceived as a way to give everyday folk the chance to try their hand at poker. It celebrated the start of the UKIPT, the biggest poker tour in the country, as it kicked off at The Hippodrome Casino in London.

Andy Jones, founder of foodie kings Jones & Sons, runs The Trip Space Kitchen under the railway arches at Haggerston overground station; this is where the All-in Kitchen pop-up, well, popped up.

He said: “People will follow anything through their bellies, I suppose, and what better way than through a game of poker?”

He said the two pastimes share a sense of sociability—getting round a table and having a laugh. Diners certainly seemed to be enjoying themselves and wolfed down their food so they could re-join the tables and start playing all over again.

Obliging dealers helped players get to grips with the rules and the focus was definitely on fun rather than form. The whole idea was to bust some myths about poker and make people feel comfortable at the table.

As themed restaurants go, this one seems like a diamond. But was the food the real deal, too? With a value of £50 a head, including a welcome cocktail, this three course meal was certainly not a bank-buster—by London standards, anyway. But it absolutely delivered on quality, execution and wit.

Let’s start with the cocktails:

Guests could choose from The Raise—home-smoked rum with orange and raspberry liqueurs—or the All Nighter—a caffeine-spiked espresso martini designed to keep you at the table until dawn. Non-drinkers could opt for The Bluff, an aptly named mocktail of elderflower and lemon.

The food menu followed the theme too, but not at the expense of excellent cooking. Diners feasted on Queens—scallops with salt-baked swede and a bacon marmalade—and Three of a Kind Confit—confit and pan-fried duck with a blackberry reduction.

If fowl was not your thing, The Royal Flush was a delicious King Crab thermidor with straw fries. Pudding included the Millionaire’s Tart, a take on the classic chocolate and salted caramel treat.

Now, on the back of its London success, it’s hoped there will be similar pop-up experiences at other UKIPT destinations like Edinburgh, Nottingham, Dublin and Bristol. So if you missed your chance this time round, you could still have a shot at the experience if it takes to the road.

Pokerstars

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